Posted by Chuck on February 6, 2019
Credit Cards

Published on February 6th, 2019 | by Chuck

159

Amex Gold is Inconsistent with their 4x Restaurants Category

Update 2/6/19: American Express front line representatives are now stating they are going through the statements of those with inquiries regarding this issue and manually adding those merchants so they code correctly. That seems unnecessary considering most of the time it correctly shows up as a restaurant but it’s still not earning 4x. Still it’s good to see they are at least attempting to fix the issues for some people.

Below is a guest post from my friend Dawnzerly from ShareTraveler.com, a website dedicated to saving money on travel using home exchange and other sharing economy networks.

One of the big attractions to the new Amex Gold card is the ability to earn 4X Membership Rewards (MR) points per dollar on restaurant spend, one of the best earning rates on restaurant spend available. Unfortunately, a lot of people are finding themselves only earning the generic 1X points, even when using the card at full-fledged restaurants. The reasons are unclear, and getting the problem corrected can be time consuming and frustrating.

My Experiences

On my November statement there were 12 charges at restaurants, of which 5 did not earn the 4X multiplier. It’s easy to check if you earned the bonus: in your online Amex account, select the Statements & Activity tab and choose any closed statement; the charges that get the bonus show a little blue diamond with 4X in it next to the charge.

I called Amex to ask for help with this. Over the course of several phone calls and many transfers to new people/departments I learned a few things. First, many Amex employees don’t know about this problem. Second, they need to open a case for the MR team to investigate, and when they do this you should hear back within the week (if you don’t hear back, no case was actually opened). Third, once investigation is complete, you won’t necessarily win.

From the charges I’ve followed up on, one place was determined not to be a restaurant at all. They gave me courtesy points for that place, but they won’t pay 4X on it in the future. The other restaurants they investigated on my bill were said to have been fixed in the Amex system; those will hopefully code properly in the future.

Readers note in the comments that the issue also affects the signup bonus offer to get 20% back at restaurants – it’ll only work on what they consider restaurants. And people have had similar issues in the past with other restaurant bonuses from Amex as well. Other banks like Chase use a broader catch-all category which includes everything, but Amex is more limiting, and results in many legitimate restaurant purchases being disqualified by their system.

What Works and What Does Not

This earnings issue affects all kinds of dining establishments. Of my nine failed restaurants from my November and December statements: three were ordinary restaurants (sit down, menus, etc.); one was a cafe (coffee and pastries only); four were breweries with minimal food on offer; one was a brewery with full sit-down restaurant on premises (yes, I go to a lot of breweries!). You might be thinking that a good rule of thumb is that breweries don’t work, but there were several breweries that did code for me at 4X, so there’s no consistent pattern there.

Digging into the details a bit more, Amex displays the Category of purchase at two levels in your online statement. For instance, many of my restaurants show as: Restaurant – Restaurant. Others show as Restaurant – Bar & Cafe. Two, oddly, show as Merchandise & Supplies – Groceries (both of these are bars at breweries).

Even some of those which showed Restaurant – Restaurant did not always get the bonus points. The ones in the Bar & Cafe subgroup more often did not get 4X, yet sometimes they did earn 4X automatically. The ones coded as Merchandise & Supplies never earned 4X (and they did not code at 4X for groceries either, despite showing the exact same way as the grocery category).

The category you see in your Amex login is not the category Amex uses to award bonus points. I was told by several different Amex reps that the restaurants missing the 4X bonus have to be manually recoded to count as restaurants. This is consistent with what other folks have been told. This means that when I call to initiate an investigation they first have to decide that my charge was really at a restaurant, then they have to put in a request to recode it.

So if you have a specific restaurant which isn’t coding properly at 4X, you can get them to update their system so that it should automatically earn 4X in the future. Useful to know.

Some people have speculated that restaurants using Square or Toast readers for payments may be the problem. That’s definitely possible – this would be the case with many of the indy bars and restaurants I frequent. You can see this online: Toast transactions will show up on your Amex statement as “TST*” preceding the restaurant name.

And Square shows under the detail of the transaction under “Additional information.” If the payment processor is the problem, you could ask about payment systems before providing your credit card to pay.

 

This may, however, be a case where correlation is not causation. Of my 9 charges that didn’t earn 4X, two were with Toast, 4 were with Square, and 3 were neither of these. Smaller indy establishments are more likely to use these payment processors, and they are more likely to not code as 4X by Amex. That doesn’t necessarily mean the payment processing system is causing the failure to code as a restaurant.

Final Thoughts

Overall, my experience suggests that cafes, bars, and breweries are a high risk for not automatically counting. Restaurants have a better chance. You can also verify with each restaurant to ensure they aren’t using Square or Toast. Doing so can greatly increase your odds of getting 4X.

I feel reasonably safe using my Amex Gold at chain restaurants and at indy restaurants that have been around for a long time. I won’t use it at anything remotely considered a bar, even if they have a huge restaurant (i.e. a brewery and restaurant), nor will I use it at any cafes. The Citi Prestige will probably be my go-to backup, but first I need data points on whether it codes cafes and bars as restaurants.

Even with this cautious use of my Amex Gold I’m not entirely safe for getting the 4X points on all restaurants. I may still call in to dispute these missing rewards, but at some point it’s a bad use of my time and I will just give up on the MR bonus for restaurants.

Over the course of disputing my restaurant bonus on two statements, including follow up calls, I probably put in 3 hours on the phone. Much of that time was quite frustrating, with reps who had no idea what was going on and who were trying to make up rules about why I shouldn’t get the bonus points. In the end, I was awarded courtesy points for all that I was missing and more. So I came out ahead (actually quite a lot ahead due to the generosity of the last manager I spoke to), but I’ve stopped using my Amex Gold at a lot of places.

Bottom line: check your statements and dispute any missing 4X on restaurants. The more people who complain about this, the more likely they are to try to find a broader solution to the coding problem.



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AS
AS

Not just the 4x but the 20% off dining for new members! Friends and I had already noticed this and we’ve been pretty annoyed. We suspect intent by AMEX. My friend had his fixed via a supervisor after going nowhere with a regular rep. He had to address each charge line by line. I have NEVER had an issue with Chase. I look forward to canceling my AMEX Gold, the customer service is the worst of any card I’ve ever had. Even Barclays. (It was still worth it for the points and other perks.)

CM

Barclays has the worst customer service!

I kinda agree that AmEx does come close, though. They’ve expedited several of my cards without my permission, resulting in me having to fish for the FedEx/UPS delivery drivers — super annoying when all I wanted was to pick it up from my secure USPS mailbox — no dice with AmEx.

AS
AS

CM, Barclays is on my good side at the moment since they matched my 50k AA biz card referral to 60k. But yeah, they’re pretty bad.

Db
Db

Yeah I had to chat with an agent to get my 20% back. Moreover I had to show them a ton of restaurants that weren’t coded as 4x. In the end instead of going through 20 restaurants. I said “is it easier just to award me 5k points and call it even” and they said yes.

PoorChurner
PoorChurner

When I had Amex PRG, bubble tea cafe (uses Square) and a sandwich shop I went to wouldn’t give me the 2x points. Switched to Hyatt card and it gave me 2x points. I learned if it used Square don’t use PRG expecting restaurant bonus.

Bill
Bill

If I see square or toast, I just use the Prestige or Uber card. It’s not worth the hassle.

Zalmy

Don’t the T&C specifically exclude Square?

Jay
Jay

sure it does, but I think it’s pretty shitty of all of these credit card issuers to make us have pay attn to the payment processor being used by the dining establishment. I mean give me a break, Square and Toast do relay categories, it’s just whatever IT system Amex uses it isn’t catching it. Instead of making an effort to fix it, they just write an excuse in their T&C. They can fuck off, VISA and Mastercard aren’t doing that and if they actually want to compete, they need to fix this NOW.

Zalmy

True

Simon
Simon

Yes, I see inconsistency on mine too, no certainty, some restaurant counted, some fast food counted, I can’t figure it out. I didn’t call yet and don’t plan to unless big bill.

Dhruv
Dhruv

I can +1 square restaurants not falling into the 4x bonus category. Their T&Cs state:
“Merchants are assigned codes based on what they primarily sell. A purchase will not qualify for additional points if the merchant’s code is not eligible. Purchases made through a third-party payment account or on an online marketplace (with multiple retailers) will not qualify for additional points. A purchase may not qualify for additional points if the merchant submits the purchase using a mobile or wireless card reader or if you use a mobile or digital wallet.”

Elmer
Elmer

+1

Robbie
Robbie

Chuck, do you live in Seattle? I have enjoyed reading your posts for years now and did not realize this before. As a fellow Seattleite, I appreciate you putting in the time to help fix the Amex coding. I do not have the Gold card yet, but will try to do the same once I do. Thanks for all your work!

Cattac
Cattac

Seattleite here too:)) wonder if there’s any credit card meetup around lol was gonna ask if Chuck wanna host one if he lives here;)

Kyle
Kyle

Another Seattleite here. Have been getting stiffed on 4x at a lot of places here

Bill
Bill

I live in Seattle and have been trying to get stuff fixed, but I’m getting kind of tired of it. I’ve started just using the Prestige card or Uber card. It’s not as good of a deal, but Amex just makes this a pain.

madgoat
madgoat

This isn’t a new issue with Amex as I had the same issue 2 years ago with the original Blue for Business’s 10x points on restaurants promo. Chase is a lot more consistent as they base their decisions off the MCC and are quite generous with the sub-codes within categories that they accept for bonus. Amex is very opaque as they don’t tell us what MCC’s they accept for bonus. My rules of thumb that I used were: no Square/Toast, no indy cafes regardless of POS system, and no places that code as delis on Visa (a lot of walk-up sandwich type places). Big-box places worked for the most part which leads me to believe that Amex does not just MCC coding, but specific whitelisting of merchants.

P
P

I’ll check mine but I’ve decided not to keep the card when it renews in August anyway and this just convinced me more.

tribesman55
tribesman55

Didn’t get the 20% on a TST restaurant and Square restaurant. Very annoying.

Alex Ferrell
Alex Ferrell

Had the same issues with breweries when it was still the PRG, especially if they used square.

Ben
Ben

Yep this is now only grocery card for me. Back to CSR at restaurants. I also screwed my self not realizing you dont receive 4x out of the country…

AS
AS

Ben, to my surprise, I received 4x at Australian restaurants. Not consistently of course.

Jeff
Jeff

One DP I would like to point out is if you purchase the food via app and use Apple Pay as the checkout, it will NOT code for 4x. A prime example of this is the new Chipotle app where you can get your food picked up at the restaurant and set a time you’re picking it up. If you pay via Apple Pay with the app, you won’t get 4x, but If I went to the SAME restaurant location and paid in store then it will code 4x. Its an AMEX problem, not a “restaurant not coding properly” problem.

Electroman
Electroman

+1

JBC
JBC

Did anybody have success contacting AMEX?

Yingy
Yingy

Mine too. Two restaurants were not earing 4x points.

Jeff
Jeff

This reason has been why I have not gotten the card yet.

Grant

Me too! I’ll take 3x with CSR all day versus fighting for 4x with Gold AMEX. Not worth my time.

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